I’m not sure why television shows in the UK are organized by series rather than by season. This post refers to the third series or season of the show that was released early in 2014. In any case, this is a highly unusual show since each season consists of only three episodes and the length of each episode is closer to what is expected of a movie than a television program. Also, each season seems to take two years to make since the first one appeared in 2010 and the previous one appeared in 2012.
Like many others, I found myself completely entranced by the first season. It featured a strong cast, intelligently updated the familiar Holmes canon for the modern world and most importantly, was deliciously fun in pushing the limits of logical deduction. It depicted Holmes as being capable of inferring large amounts of information from the smallest observations, but upon reflection the conclusion actually strikes one as being plausible. After hearing the explanation, you’re impressed by how smart Holmes is.
The latest batch of episodes makes many mistakes. But the foremost of these is that it actually makes Holmes stupid. Why would the smartest detective in the world need multiple viewings of a video to realize that the number of carriages in the subway train had changed? If I as a view can immediately link the clue (“underground network”, it’s not like it’s even a clever pun) to the subway system, why does it takes Holmes most of an episode to do so? Is there any viewer who didn’t immediately suspect the wedding photographer the moment Holmes realized something was going on?
The show tries to hide the lack of intelligent reasoning by relying on the gimmick of visualizing the memory palace technique. This is abused far too much in all three episodes. I suppose generating cool visual effects to depict the usage of the technique is easier than actually thinking up smart ways to link clues to conclusions. The central role that it plays in the final episode and the stupid way that it is resolved is added insult.
There are things that I still like. The production values are as superb as ever and the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson is always a joy to watch. Also enjoyable in this season is the greater prominence of Mark Gatiss’ (one of the show’s co-creators) Mycroft Holmes. His interactions and especially childhood reminiscences with Sherlock is great fun.
But ultimately this is a weak season that relies on technical wizardry and self-referential fanservice rather than interesting detective work. While there is some merit in a soap opera featuring a hyper-intelligent, sociopathic main character, this isn’t what Sherlock Holmes should be about. Bring back the crime-solving and detective work please.